Louie Tran is the youngest son of the Tran family. His parents, Loi and Den Tran started the family business as a hot dog cart in 1992. After working many years in the legal industry, Tran took over the family business and focused the family business on the fast-casual restaurant format in 2012.
Tell us about the Umai Savory Hot Dogs concept:
Umai Savory Hot Dogs is a unique spin on hot dogs, featuring fresh, healthy ingredients. Our hot dogs are all natural, gluten-free, no MSG, no by-products, or additives and colors. We also carry a broad range of sausages, sliders, desserts and unique sides. We also carry gluten-free buns and vegetarian hot dogs and sausages. My parents started from just a single hot dog cart in San Jose, California decades ago but I really wanted a more unique take on the traditional hot dog.
How and when did you become involved with Umai Savory Hot Dogs?
I never really intended to get into the restaurant industry. After my father passed away, the business stagnated due to the lack of leadership and my mom has wanted to rekindle the business since. I knew there was demand for good hot dogs and sausages, but I also knew right away that I did not want to operate hot dog carts due to the many drawbacks such as weather, location, and operating hours. I spent several years working on the recipes and laying out the groundwork for a fast-casual restaurant format instead. Our first store opened in Roseville, California in 2015 to much success.
What was your background prior to the Umai Savory Hot Dogs franchise?
I was a corporate paralegal with many of California’s top law firms for almost 14 years. I started a successful company doing importing and exporting and still remain on the Board. In 2012, I decided to focus on the family business. My experience in the legal field helped a lot when I started the conversion to the fast-casual format. I learned that you must plan everything out carefully, and then plan some more. I worked a lot of restaurant and kitchen jobs throughout college and I understand how hard it is. That’s one of the reasons why I never wanted to go into the restaurant industry, but fate can has a sense of humor it seems.
What are some of the advantages in being a franchisee with Umai Savory Hot Dogs?
I am very passionate about the business. It is my family business after all. A franchisee is a business partner that is there to help you grow as a team and as a company. They’re like family and like family, you can never let them down. I will go out of my way to make things right. One of the things I learned from many of our franchisees is that, while many of them are skilled at business, the majority of them may know many aspects of business in general, but may lack in other aspects. So I prefer to over-train them just to make sure they know everything. We provide support every step of the way through from site selection, lease negotiation, architectural planning, construction management, equipment training, kitchen training, supplies and purchasing, inventory, marketing, and even long after the store is open, we continue to train on customer service and food handling.
Who is your ideal franchisee?
The ideal franchisee is someone who is passionate about the food concept, the brand, and what it stands for. My father started the business and ran it with a passion you seldom see from entrepreneurs. I run it with that same passion and I hope our franchisee shares that passion with the same food quality and customer care. I truly believe that if you enjoy your work and what you do, it will show.
Tell us a little about the Industry/Market?
Americans love hot dogs - more than any other country. Through sporting events, local picnics, carnivals, festivals and restaurants, Americans consume over 20 billion hot dogs a year.
According to recent survey data obtained by the American Hot Dog and Sausage Council, Americans purchase 350 million pounds of hot dogs at retail stores - that's 9 billion hot dogs! That works out to about 70 hot dogs per person each year. Hot dogs are served in 95 percent of homes in the United States. 45% of hot dogs are consumed at the retail level, 15% are purchased from street vendors, 10% are consumed through festivals and events and 9% are purchased at ballparks. The remaining 21% are consumed through restaurants.
There are currently only a total of 6 hot dog restaurant franchises in the United States, serving a population of 318.9 million. Of those 6, only 2 have national presence.
What Umai Savory Hot Dogs offer is a unique spin on one of America’s favorite foods. As our ethnic backgrounds become more and more diverse, tastes change. Umai Savory Hot Dogs is unique in that aspect and we offer regional specialties and diverse ethnic flavors.
What are some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned in growing this franchise?
The greatest lessons I’ve learned in growing this franchise is food consistency and passion. While I am not a trained chef by any means, I am very particular about my food quality and taste. You can cook eggs 10 different ways and have 15 different results. Much of my struggle initially was making sure our operations and food quality was consistent throughout every location and that we delivered a quality product each and every time.
As I mentioned before, having passion for your business and what you do is 90% of your success. I would spend countless hours just talking to customers and critics to see how we could improve everything. It is difficult to have every franchisee be passionate about the brand and its business, but the ones that are, usually are the ones that are more successful. Passion is infectious and it will drive your staff motivation and your customers to love your brand.
Do you have a mentor and is there someone you use for inspiration?
I don’t have a mentor and everything I learned, I learned from making mistakes and admitting fault and getting back on the horse after the fall. I have a lot of respect and draw inspiration from Steve Ells, the founder of Chipotle. I can’t even imagine the amount of work and dedication he has put in to grow his business. If I can achieve even a fraction of his success, I would be happy.
What advice do you have for someone looking to acquire a franchise?
My advice would be to look at a concept and ask yourself how much you like the food, the brand, and its direction and growth. Warren Buffett is another hero of mine. I remember in college, my professor said that Warren Buffett’s approach to picking stocks is to look for things and brands you commonly used frequently. If it’s a product you love, there’s a good chance that many others will too. The same goes for most restaurant concepts. If the food is great, the customer service is great, and the brand has a good following and the people operating the business has the passion to drive the brand forward, then you’ve got a winner.
In your opinion, why do you think that Umai Savory Hot Dogs would be a great opportunity for someone?
Umai Savory Hot Dogs is very unique in that we offer many items besides our specialty hot dogs and sausages. We have such a broad range of burgers, fries, noodles, chicken wings, desserts, and specialty drinks and every product is as distinctive as the next. Umai Savory Hot Dogs has a strong brand following and our unique concept has multiple formats including the standard restaurant, a limited-seating and service restaurant, food court kiosk, and even mobile food truck. This allows our franchisees to adapt the concept and grow rapidly by opening multiple formats in their local area with lower investment and start-up costs.